For the past 500 years Sint Nicolaas has been celebrated in the Netherlands every year on December 6th. It is a very separate holiday then Christmas. Sint Nicolaas is when children put their shoes out for candy and gifts. Surprises are made and given and after December 6 the Christmas season starts. Christmas is/was purely a religious holiday with no gift exchanging. The Dutch distinguish between Sint Nicolaas songs and Christmas songs, they are separate. An advantage to the Dutch Sint is that because it is not a religious holiday, Muslims, Jew and other denominations can also celebrate Sint Nicolaas. There is a clear distinction between Sint Nicolaas and Christmas. They are two separate holidays. But for the past 10 years or so capitalism has reigned here in Holland.
About 15 years ago the shops started selling American Santa decorations. Skiing Santa, dancing Santa, singing Santa and all other forms of absurd Santa have invaded. People have started hanging up stockings and exchanging gifts at Christmas as well as on the 6ths. The Dutch seem to be in a cultural crisis. They want to have their traditional Sint Nicolaas but they also like the American Santa (after all, who doesn’t want an absurd dancing Santa). What do you do? How do you explain it? Well they are trying.
The American Santa here is called ‘the Christmas Man’. Their children believe that the ‘Christmas man’ is a separate person who has come from the States. They have also been influenced by the Hollywood Santa films with Santa (Christmas man) coming on Christmas. For the wealthy, they have both gifts from the Sint on December 6th and gifts from each other on Christmas day with candy and things in the Christmas stockings that have been filled by the Christmas man. Sounds confusing? It is! It is also expensive and stressful. If you thought buying gifts just on Christmas was rough think about doing it twice in one month.
What are the Dutch going to do in the future? Only time will tell. At the moment each family seems to make their own rules and traditions but collectively it is an interesting plight and social experiment. Will capitalism win or the pull of culture? Its fun living on Mars.